Even the Beautiful Must Die

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According to the self-understanding of Christian faith, there is only one single appearance of truth which- despite all parallels to the beautiful pre-appearance of the truth- follows another law. That is the revelation of God. It is distinguished from the epiphanies of the beautiful in that the origin of all light appears in this event, and indeed appears in such a way that it does not radiate in the light of the world as does the beautiful, but rather appears hidden sub contrario [under the opposite]. The event of revelation cannot therefore be subordinated to the category of the beautiful. Sin- that which God made him, who knew no sin, for the sake of sinners, and for their benefit- was too ugly for that…. The revelation of Jesus Christ shatters all beautiful appearance. It must shatter the beautiful appearance, because it is not a pre-appearance of the truth, but is the truth itself. Yet according to the understanding of the New Testament, this truth occurs fundamentally as a crisis. It does this by confronting the world not only with its finiteness and transience, but also with its merited end and well-earned disgrace. Revelation does this, as Paul expresses it, by ‘painting’ the crucified ‘before your eyes’ (Gal. 3.1). From this death as such, it is not apparent that the life of the risen one has been released from it, and with that that eternal life is promised in the form of a visio beatifica [beatific vision], thus a totally unfettered vision of God face to face. For according to the New Testament, God’s love is a work in this death. This love is not a love which (like amor hominis [human love]) is kindled by the beautiful, but rather a love which beautifies that which is ugly, namely the self-defacing homo peccator [human sinner], by loving it. As the event of the love of God, the death of Jesus Christ is the opposite of what it appears to be. The cross of Jesus Christ does not disclose that in this death there occurs the unity of life and death in favour of life, which deserves to be called love.

For that disclosure to take place, a renewed coming of the one who has previously appeared sub contraria specie [under the opposite species] is necessary. For this, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is necessary, that is, the Easter coming of the Lord in glory and thus in the unmitigated light of his own being…. For now the beautiful appears both in the alien light of the world as well as in the light of its own being; but then this twilight hanging over the beautiful will come to an end. Then nothing more will appear. For then being in glory will replace appearance…. Then truth and beauty will be identical…here and now the beautiful remains only a glimmer of truth, lighting up and fading away again. With Schopenhauer one can say that the beautiful ‘does not deliver’ humanity ‘from life for ever, but only for a few moments’. In a world context characterized by sham existence and lack of freedom, the experience of the beautiful (as the glimmer of truth) that makes the torn world whole can only be an experience which interrupts this world context. The most that an aesthetic relation can promise is being whole (being eternal) for a moment – in order then to return to the interrupted life context, at best changed and changing. But if one wants it to be more, or if it should become more, if one denies the bitter insight that ‘even the beautiful must die’, then the beautiful will inevitably become an enemy of the truth.

…. only what makes a claim to truth deserves to be called beautiful, and that only where truth establishes itself in a work can one speak of a work of art. But beauty and art are both welcome and dangerous competitors with the Christian kerygma, for in the beautiful appearance they anticipate that which faith has to declare, without any beautiful appearance and indeed in contrast to it: namely, the hour of truth.
(Eberhard Jüngel, “‘Even the Beautiful Must Die’- Beauty in the Light of Truth”, in Theological Essays II [T&T Clark, 1995], pp. 79-81)

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